Plants to go bananas over
I’ve gone mad for bananas. At both the spring and autumn Harrogate Flower Shows 2015, I brought back a banana from the Lost World Nursery stand – and another one from Harperley Hall Farm Nurseries.
I’m not really expecting fruit, it’s the huge leaves I’m growing them for, with changing patterns and colours at different times of the year, strongest in the brightest light.
The newest arrival is an Abyssinian Red (Ensete maurelii), which proved quite a talking point on two trains home. There’s a picture lurking on my phone of me and it having a pint at Harrogate train station. As it can reach 16ftx12ft, it should be interesting.
Its rate of growth this spring alone is formidable, even when I hacked it to a stump to stop a plague of aphids hiding in the leaf stems.
It’s an absolutely stunning plant, very like a dark-leaved Canna, but rapidly outstripping it in size.
The other two are Musa Dwarf Cavendish, much more manageable, which grow up to a height of only 6-8 ft and are also worth growing for their leaves alone – young leaves bear distinctive dark patterns, which then fade.
The fruits range from about 15 to 25cm in length and each plant can bear up to 90 fingers, a close relative of the plantation bananas we all buy in shops. This one’s much easier to get to fruit.
Potted guide: bananas
- Bananas need full sun, lots of water and feed in a free draining, moisture-retentive soil.
- Plants need protection from strong winds which will tear the leaves.
- Mulch well with well-rotted manure, chicken manure and/or feed with liquid tomato feed or any high nitrogen feed.
- Kept dry over winter, plants can remain dormant and will survive 5C – but won’t fruit.
- Plants are best overwintered at temperatures of about 10C in a heated greenhouse. I made a ‘banana house’ out of a 4ft wide tomato house with a heat mat low down.
- For fruit, a winter minimum of 15C is recommended.
Origins of banana plants
Musa Dwarf Cavendish is a selected form originating in southern China in 1826.
The Duke of Devonshire acquired plants which fruited in the glasshouse at Chatsworth House. The plant was named after his family name of Cavendish.
Other plants, bearing the same name, reached The Canary Islands and Americas at the same time and Musa Dwarf Cavendish is now considered a ‘type’ rather than a specific cultivar.